U of T news
  • Follow U of T News

U of T Cities podcast episode one: the future of traffic

Mini-series launches with U of T experts on smarter traffic lights, hybrid vehicles and politics of the road

Engineering post-doc Samah El-Tantawy works with Professor Baher Abdulhai to develop 'smarter' traffic lights (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Issues driving public debate and city politics over the past year are heating up as Toronto voters get ready to head to the polls.

Their decisions on October 27 will shape the city's development over the coming years. 

Over the next four weeks, U of T News will feature a mini-series of podcasts introducing experts from geography, architecture, engineering and more as they explain their boundary-breaking research with the aim of providing voters – and anyone interested in the future of cities – with a snapshot of what Toronto and other global cities could look like just a few years from now.

The first episode is all about traffic. You can download or stream the full episode here:

(Click the down-pointing arrow button in the player to download episode and transfer to your listening device; Transcript available here; Now available on iTunes)

Click through to find other installments of the miniseries on transit (episode two here) and building sustainable cities (episode three here). Final episode will be published on October 27.


In the first part of this episode, post-doctoral researcher Samah El-Tantawy (pictured above) explains her work with Professor Baher Abdulhai as they develop a system known as MARLIN-ATSC (Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning for Integrated Network of Adaptive Traffic Signal Controllers).

The name sounds complicated but it's really a simple idea: making traffic lights artifically intelligent.

She says traffic simulations have shown that MARLIN can reduce traffic wait times by 40 per cent – and it's just about to be tested on the roads of Burlington.

Last year, El-Tantawy was featured in U of T News for winning an international award for her work on MARLIN. (Read more about El-Tantawy's 'smarter traffic lights' research)


Engineering alumnus Phil Lam and his team at Wheelspan want to make travel on Toronto roads greener, safer and more efficient.

Their innovative human-electric hybrid vehicle and their company are both in development at the Impact Centre, one of U of T's entrepreneurship hubs specifically designed for entrepreneurs focused on the physical sciences. (Read more about the Impact Centre)

Lam explains the urban needs driving the mission of Sojourn Labs (formerly Wheelspan).


Professor Zack Taylor teaches urban issues and local government at University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.

He's interested in political questions and behaviour at a local scale –and he's inviting his students to join him in his work.

This semester, Taylor is leading a fourth-year seminar course all about the Toronto election. 

In this episode, he explains why he's looking to students to help fill the gaps of scholarship on city elections and what it means for young researchers to dig in.

(Read more about this course on Taylor's class blog)

Read more about building successful cities at U of T. 

This podcast features music made available on the Free Music Archive from artists Cheese N Pot-C, Tha Silent Partner and The Custodian of Records.

Transcript available.